"Jim Crow" was the name of the system of laws and customs that enforced racial segregation and discrimination throughout the United States, especially the South, from the late 19th century through the 1960s.
It is thought that the name Jim Crow was taken from a character in minstrel shows (in which white performers in blackface used African-American stereotypes in their songs and dances).
African-Americans living in the South during the first half of the 20th century saw graphic reminders of their second-class citizenship in signs reading "Whites Only" or "Colored" hung over drinking fountains and the doors to restrooms, restaurants, movie theaters and other public places. Along with segregation, blacks faced discrimination in jobs and housing and were often denied their constitutional right to vote.
Some of the earliest Jim Crow legislation came from the transportation industry. As early as 1881, Tennessee enacted a law enforcing segregation in railway cars. Then, the U.S. Supreme Court ruling, Plessy v. Ferguson (1896), upheld Louisiana's right to segregate railway carriages, declaring that the 14th amendment to the U.S. constitution mandated political, but not social equality.
This led to comprehensive Southern segregation: in education, public parks and libraries. It also fueled an atmosphere of racism and a rise in lynching, rioting and the Ku Klux Klan. In addition, trends in scholarship lent respectability to the view that blacks were inherently inferior to whites.
A combination of factors led to the dismantling of Jim Crow starting in the late 1940s. Supreme Court decisions in Sweatt v. Painter (1949) and McLaurin v. Oklahoma (1950) began to break down the "separate but equal" standard set by Plessy v. Ferguson and finally outlawed state-sponsored segregation in 1954's Brown v. Board of Education. Violent resistance by some white Southerners was met by a growing Civil Rights Movement that used boycotts, sit-ins, marches and other forms of nonviolent protest to achieve goals such as passage of the 1964 Civil Rights Act and the 1965 Voting Rights Act.